The eight applicants in pursuit of two business licenses to operate a dispensary in Healdsburg will each state their case before the City Council, and the public, on Monday, Nov. 13. The meeting starts at 5pm in their chambers at 410 Grove St.
The meeting will begin with a brief presentation by city staff. That will be followed by eight minutes for each of the eight applicants to make their verbal presentation to the council, plus additional time to respond to questions from the council members.
Public comment will be held at the conclusion of all applicant presentations and council questions. Applicants and owners will not be allowed to speak during public comment.
The public review should be the final step in the two-year process to provide for legal sale and distribution of cannabis in the city of Healdsburg. Although the council is expected to choose the two successful applicants, it is not obligated to do so—and a continuance to a later date for further consideration is always a possibility.
Assistant City Manager Andrew Sturmfels, who is guiding the city’s process, posted background documentation for every applicant on the city’s website late last week, including graded results from their application forms and interview scores. The application forms show that three primary categories were scored separately—Security Plan, Labor and Employment Plan, and Business Plan. Each category was worth 400 points, for a total of 1,200 available points.
The completed and tabulated applications showed that most applicants scored 1,200 out of 1,200 points, while two others fell short in one subcategory or another. In both cases it was the failure to fully supply all the documentation requested, at least according to the scoring committee.
The information on the city’s website at healdsburg.gov/1094/Retail-Application-Review-Process also included scores not only from the initial application process (Phase II), but the city’s interviews with the applicant (Phase III), most of which were conducted on Oct. 18.
Of interest is that while six of the applicants scored 100% (1,200 points out of 1,200) on the initial application, the two that did not were the top two total score earners in Phase III of the process, the in-person interviews.
Mercy Wellness (with its proposed dispensary at 20 Dry Creek Rd.) scored 1,145 points (95.42%) on the Phase II application, but the high score of 97.6% in Phase III, the interview. 465 Retail (dba Solful, at 465 Healdsburg Ave.) scored 1,185 points (98.75%) on the application, but the second-highest rating of 94.94% in the interview.
All other applicants scored 100% in Phase II, but their interview scores fell short of the top two. These applicants include JF Healdsburg (dba Jane, at 44D Mill St.), which narrowly earned the third-highest Phase III score of 90.94%, ahead of OTC Healdsburg (dba Off the Charts, at 129-133 Healdsburg Ave.) at 90.75%.
Finishing below 90% in Phase III were Garden PARC (dba Sparc, at 1241 Grove St.) with 88.31%; and Sonoma CHO (dba Flora Terra, at 498 Moore Lane), with 87.88%.
Two other applicants scored less than 70% in the interviews. They were Kure Healdsburg (dba Kure Wellness, 434 Hudson St.) at 69.06%; and Chroma (dba Thi Wellness, 51 Front St.) with just 60%.
However, the council is not required to follow the scores in their final decision. “The scores are separate and will not be combined,” said Sturmfels. “Since all eight applicants are moving forward to the council for consideration, it is ultimately the council’s determination on who to select.”
As to whether the council will make a final decision at the Nov. 13 meeting, Sturmfels said, “Council always has the option to hold an item to a later date.”
Perhaps to sway the council, if not public opinion, a number of Healdsburg households received an oversize postcard mailer the week of Oct. 30, outlining reasons for opposing one site in particular—that offered by Mercy Wellness. The location is at the former Di Vine Pizza restaurant at 20 Dry Creek Rd., near the intersection with Healdsburg Avenue.
During the runup to the city’s initial selection period, Mercy Wellness parked a black van stenciled with their name, address and other information soliciting support for the location, the most visible overture for public support in Healdsburg.
The mailer was signed “Healdsburg Community Residents,” though there was no direct contact information for the mysterious group aside from a P.O. Box that did not appear to be accurate.
The reasons for opposing the dispensary largely concerned its location as closest of the proposed dispensaries to the public schools. It was also described as being “the gateway to the Healdsburg Wine Country” and “a landmark for all Dry Creek and Alexander Valley tourists, as well as visitors to the Montage Hotel.”
Recipients of the postcards—which were addressed to property landlords—were encouraged to contact city council members, and all five of their email addresses were printed on the card.
Curiously, none of the council members reported receiving the postcard, though all received at least 30 messages about it, with Mayor Ariel Kelley seeing the greatest response of “about a hundred emails, possibly more, from folks both for and against having Mercy operate at 20 Dry Creek Road.”
All of the council members contacted reported a 4-1 split of messages opposed to, or in favor of, the location, though some messages only included the subject line recommended by the postcard.
“On the whole, locals had some really thoughtful things to say about this location,” said Kelley. “Many folks did not like how visible it is as you enter a main artery into town. Others said while they enjoy cannabis and are happy they will be able to purchase it locally in the coming year, they think this location is not very discrete and would prefer to purchase somewhere more ‘off the beaten path’ where they won’t run into clients or people who may judge them for buying it.”
Councilmember Evelyn Mitchell said she received about 50 email messages, most of them opposed to the dispensary at that location. But she pointed out that location was just one of the criteria that had already been established months ago in the review process, and 20 Dry Creek Rd. met the criteria, “along with capitalization of the business and security that matter as much or more than the location.”
She thought the response indicated that the mailer may have reached people who hadn’t been paying attention to the process, though, like the other council members, she did not receive the postcard itself.
Councilmember Ron Edwards said he received close to 40 emails, though he also said it was “the most emails I’ve gotten about any subject.” He made efforts to find out who sent the card, but wasn’t able to do so easily and, given his expected impartiality in the council’s decisions, he decided not to dig any deeper.
Councilmember Chris Herrod, the other first-termer on the council, said he also received about 40 emails, with most in agreement with the postcard’s position, though about 20% opposed it.
Mayor Kelley, however, made it a point to say the postcard responses weren’t the best way to engage in public conversation on the topic, saying that “people can and should email us their feedback in advance of Monday’s public meeting. We welcome their thoughts and emails are a great way to reach us.”
The Cannabis Review meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 13, starting at 5pm, in City Council Chambers, 401 Grove St.